28 February 2010

Salisbury

I remember five years ago, with giddy anticipation I walked toward the mysterious Stonehenge. That feeling was not gone yesterday as I made that journey again. It is trite, yes, but a fascinating place. I am forever amazed that they were not just set there, but it was quite a calculated place (it can be used as a calendar) and the stones were carved to form a circular shape, and they actually all fit together with joints, which is just boggling. After watching this guys video, it is with renewed interest that I pondered the raising of Stonehenge.
I am hoping that they come up with some kind of solution to ease the traffic in the area, the highway noise detracts some from the bronze age mindset. Although I agree that putting a tunnel directly under it is a bad idea.
After we had had our fill, and it conveniently started raining, we headed to the nearby town of Salisbury.

The whole town was moved to its current location back in the day (the 13th Century) for its water supply and overall good looks. Here they constructed the 'new' cathedral which is quite a beautiful place.
The cathedral, built between 1220 and 1258, is enormous, with much history and beauty. The most heartbreaking history when some guy in charge thought it would be a good idea to paint over medieval paintings on the ceiling, tear down a bell tower, and sell all of the stained glass. I dont know, but I think he was tarred and feathered before the end. A small section of the original glass exists, but most of the rest is clear, which actually makes for a very bright interior.
The cathedral also boasts the tallest spire in the UK at 404 feet (built in the early 13oo's). Its a bit scary as the original foundation of the cathedral wasn't exactly built to hold such a structure. Bends in the enormous interior columns formed over time, and they must constantly test to make sure there is enough moisture in the ground underneath to hold the structure. (Literally there is a hole in the nave that they sink a stick into to check the water level) In high winds they evacuate the area as the tower is so 'fragile' merely one layer of stone around medieval wooden scaffolding. Suddenly I wasn't as disappointed at missing the tour of the tower.
The cathedral also houses Eurpoe's oldest working clock, and one of only four known original copies of the Magna Carta, now there's an old, unreadable, and landmark piece of paper.
My day ended with more wandering (perhaps my new favorite pastime), seeking Wiltshire food, and exploring the remains of their Saturday market. I had an amusing encounter (from a distance) with a drunk guy. He was challenging everything in the area with: "D'you wanna 'av a go?!" everything, that is, except people. He was knocking down displays and stacks of shopping baskets at the Sainsburys who I assume, had wisely refused to sell him alcohol. As he stormed away I heard his friend say "...he only wanted a drink." Yeah, because he clearly hasn't had enough. I felt like I was at work, it was great. I also enjoyed the general 'tutting' and scandalised 'Wells!' coming from fellow bystanders.

26 February 2010

York (again)

I returned to the northern city of York this week, mostly on a fact finding mission for future travel pursuits to Yorkshire. And, because I really liked it the first time and I wanted to make sure I wasn't disillusioned. And, because it was free.
I'm happy to report that the weather was questionable and the ride there took forever, so I can conclude that I was not disillusioned the first time, I still liked it!
Everything in York is either covered in moss or cobblestoned, or both. It exudes charm. Even the pizza hut is in a beautiful building.
I didn't really end up doing much of anything. The Christmas crowds were all gone and it was nice just to walk around. At the end of the day we had some fancy tea and scones where it was required to hold your pinky out when you picked up your teacup.
My parents recently booked tickets to visit (huzzah!) and York, Yorkshire and basically the entire north of England are on the list of things to do. Any suggestions for driving routes or places to stay?

23 February 2010

The year of the Tiger

I am fascinated by public transport, and although I have great faith in it, it can be a little confusing and I am always kind of surprised when I successfully arrive at my destination. After taking the train last weekend to London I am more confident in reading the confusing timetables, which is great because until now, they made no sense to me at all. There's something about the London tube that I find especially appealing, and as it took us to Chinatown I don't know if I was more excited to be zooming around under the city or getting to learn some Chinese New Year customs.
The streets of Chinatown were teeming with people, it was amazing. It took us 20 minutes to walk one block there were so many enjoying the parade of a good luck lion zig-zagging its way down the street, visiting each business to, well, give them good luck. In each doorway hung an offering of lettuce which the 'Lion' would take, break up, and throw back onto the proprietors. Everything I found strange about the day was justified as 'good luck' so, okay! We had a buffet lunch that was okay and 'London cheap' which basically means not cheap at all. The lion throwing lettuce at the door didn't make the food better, but made for an interesting intermission. Hundreds of lanterns were strung across the streets, Leicester and Trafalgar squares were alive with celebratory people, entertained with traditional Chinese dances and music.
I learned and forgot several Chinese phrases, enjoyed strange offerings in the Asian markets, and had a leisurely stroll through some London sites. We snuck (sneaked?) into Westminster Abbeys Evensong, I am always surprised by the beauty of that place!
In the evening they had a spectacular display of Chinese fireworks. How could I underestimate their proficiency at this, after all, they invented them. The proximity to trees had me wondering if the London Fire Brigade was an official sponsor. But what ensued was one of the best, brightest, and loudest displays I've ever seen. Some into the trees, but most were low; strung across trees, spraying out on the ground. By the end the smoke was thick and pieces of firework were raining down on us.
Last night we brought the two week celebration to an end and made some Chinese dumplings. It was a surprisingly simple process (especially if you buy the dough premade and cut into circles) but forming the dumplings is a real skill. It was clear which ones the yank made, overstuffed and not exactly artfully done. Regardless of how they looked, they were delicious.

16 February 2010

The Big Five

Five years ago on a day that was completely random, a blog was born. A vessel to share my adventures as a paramedic student, and now as a different kind of student. Five years ago I wouldn't have believed what I'm up to now, let alone that the blog would have followed me this far. Every year I express my disbelief at still being a blogger, maybe after six years I will be less surprised.
This year for the first time, my paper diary does exist and is not for rent. Well, it's negotiable.

The traditional gift for a five year anniversary is wood. The so called 'modern' traditional gift is silverware. Somehow I don't think the blog needs either of those things. I hope to give the blog another five years of posts. Well, I hope to give my handful of dear readers another five years of posts. Thanks for reading the 600+ posts and I'm beginning to think that not all of the 33,000 hits are from my mother. I assure you next year the blog will be back to its usual EMS quota, I don't want to stray too far from my roots, but I hope you're enjoying England.

14 February 2010

St. Valentine

Ah, the holiday that I have historically loathed, and secretly longed to enjoy. Worries of lonliness and expectation are long since past. The unbreakable heart is a sad thing. But things can change, and time, time alone, time apart, can cause the heart to soften. And little reminders become all that matter. And by little reminders I mean giant boquets of flowers sent from 3000 miles away. Magic.

07 February 2010

Karaoke

Last night I was a witness to the singing sensation that is not sweeping the nation. At least not this one. Or the one I'm from. I found myself trolling Chinese restaraunts with a group of friends not in seach of food, but in search of an open karaoke room.
Karaoke is a word that strikes fear in the hearts of most westerners, myself included. The last time I was even close to participating was in a smoky bar full of peer pressure and a sleazy DJ queuing up songs ready to make us wish we were born deaf.
I had no idea that the Eastern definition is quite different. We found a place and headed up the stairs into a hallway full of numbered doors. For a terrible moment I felt like I was entering the private "entertainment" rooms in the back of shady gentlemens clubs. But instead of a pole, the room had cushy booths, a large TV connected to speakers, and even a tiny stage. A clever computer program allowed us to play the DJ, choosing from a strange assortment of popular (and ancient) English songs and a wide variety of Chinese pop that I never knew existed.
This method of karaoke far exceeded my expectations and was more fun than what I was used to, which was any at all. Here you only embarass yourself in front of friends, and if it turns out that if you can't sing the song you've chosen, you just skip to the next one. Most of the songs I didn't know, but I did contribute maybe a single English word in the middle of a Chinese ballad. (something, something, something....BABY!)
Not only does karaoke not scare Easterners, it elates them. With wild abandon they passionately find the high notes, play a hot riff on the air guitar, and for a moment they are rock stars. And I guess that was the point all along. I think we've been missing out, taking karaoke for what it seems, a beer fueled road to public embarrasment. So, if you get the chance for some real karaoke, go for it; if the setting is right you won't even need to bring rotten tomatoes or cattle prods.

04 February 2010

Biz Con Man

For a non business person, business continuity management and its associated everything is entertaining for a limited time. It is a very interesting concept, and as one instructor put it is "common sense written down and put into practice" or something like that. I'm a big proponent, although if it ever has a practical application for me I will be surprised. Any business I start will not be big enough to warrent an official continuity plan.
Luckily, most of our instructors this week have unconsciously strayed from the topic, leading to more intersesting things. We watched a video about 9/11, and learned about some of the causes of things going terribly wrong (outside of terrorism).
In my imaginary buisness I think I will adopt shouting "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" wherever I go to keep people on their toes. This should prevent holes from forming in our defenses.
After reading parts of the 9/11 commission report (for fun?!) I have decided to retire from reading frightening documents concerning 9/11, and will stick to what I need to do for the coursework.
This will include looking up good business practice and figuring out how affected businesses made it through that terrible time without losing too much money or face. Could be fun. I do not want to keep lamenting that I can find no practical application for stuff I'm learning here because I don't think it's true in the long run. For one thing, I never know what I'll end up doing, and learning for the sake of learning is one of my favorite past times.